“I actually laugh at it, there’s nothing to get upset about. I compliment the man about his creativity. I think he’s a great artist and I do what I do; I just say we’re both blessed in our ways.” This was Desiigner, the New York rapper whose one song “Panda” is currently taking over the world, talking to The FADER in February. He was talking about Future. The FADER had to ask Desiigner about Future. It’s something you have to talk about if you talk about Desiigner. He sounds exactly like Future, in ways that can’t be accidental. The big home-run line from “Panda,” the line everyone remembers is, “I got broooads in Atlanta,” pronounced in a garbled Future-style heavy mutter. Future is from Atlanta. When he rapped the line, Desiigner had never been to Atlanta. And a month after downplaying his Future similarities to The FADER, Desiigner was onstage at the magazine’s FADER Fort venue during SXSW, debuting a new song called “Pluto.” Future’s first album was called Pluto. I actually laugh at it.
I first heard Desiigner’s voice the way I imagine a lot of us did: hunching over my computer, watching a glitchy Tidal live-stream of Kanye West debuting The Life Of Pablo at Madison Square Garden. “Panda” was only a couple of months old that night, and I’d never heard it. So when a significant chunk of it showed up on “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2,” I thought the same thing everyone else thought: “Oh shit! Future!” When it turned out to not be Future, when it turned out to be some kid from Brooklyn with a really dumb name, I got annoyed. I got annoyed at Kanye for hiring a fake Future. I got annoyed at the fake Future for existing. I wondered if Kanye West was trying to make fun of Future by having this fake version of him on this album. I wondered if, after Erykah Badu used a Drake impersonator on her But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape, the whole fake-famous-rapper thing was going to be a whole new trend.
Well, “Panda” is now a bigger song than “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2,” or any other song from The Life Of Pablo. It’s bigger than any song Kanye West has recorded in years. Two weeks ago, “Panda” had climbed to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100, higher than any Future song that he’d recorded without Drake. Last week, “Panda” was up to #5, higher than any Future song with or without Drake. This week, it’s up to #2, which is as high as any solo Drake track has ever gotten. It could well hit #1 sometime in the next couple of weeks, especially if a music video comes out. And since West uses the song so prominently in “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2,” “Panda” basically appears twice in the top 40, or maybe one and a half times. This song’s rise has been absolutely stunning. And as of right now, it’s the only commercially available song that Desiigner has ever released. From a certain perspective, maybe it would be best if he never released another song. I can’t believe he’s ever going to top this one.
A couple of weeks ago, Shaquille O’Neal was a surprise-guest entrant in a Wrestlemania battle royal. His entrance music was “Panda.” Somehow, this made sense. “Panda” is everywhere right now. There are people who probably think Desiigner’s name is Panda. If you walk 10 blocks in any heavily populated area, you will probably hear “Panda” hammering out of at least two car windows. And a funny thing has happened since “Panda” achieved total cultural dominance: I stopped thinking of it as “the fake Future song.” Or, in any case, I stopped thinking of it as just the fake Future song. “Panda” has a chaotic energy that’s completely sui generis. Throughout the track, Desiigner makes hyperactive ad-libbed machine-gun noises, which lend the song a lo-fi kid-fucking-around-in-a-basement urgency. That “broads in Atlanta” line may have been factually false, but that’s fine; I don’t believe a teenage rapper on his first single is zooming around in a BMW X6, either. And it’s the sort of line that, thanks to whatever hypnotic linguistic power that word combination has, gets stuck in your head all day. The song is hard and simple and fun. When it kicks in, people get excited. An early-summer anthem can accomplish more than that, but it doesn’t have to.
And I like the story of the song, too. Desiigner, a 19-year-old kid from Brooklyn, spends all night playing Grand Theft Auto and then decides that the BMW X6 looks like a panda. He buys a beat from Menace, a completely unknown 22-year-old producer from the English city of Manchester. (As far as I know, Menace and Desiigner have still never met.) Menace charged Desiigner $200 for the beat. Desiigner made the song, threw it up on YouTube and SoundCloud, and he watched it explode. When Kanye West found the track and built a song of its own out of it, Desiigner got a boost. But it’s not clear that he needed the boost. It’s not like every rapper who shows up on a Kanye West album track immediately becomes a star. Future made a song of his own with Kanye a couple of years ago, and it bricked, mostly because it was bad. So we have to conclude that “Panda” is resonating, at least in part, because “Panda” is a good song, regardless of whom it might be ripping off.
Future hasn’t said a word about “Panda” yet. That’s good. He shouldn’t. I like the idea of Future floating above petty earthly concerns like this, either because he’s too focused on his own goals or because he’s in such a codeine coma that he can’t bring himself to care. But Desiigner should shut up about it, too. Here’s something Desiigner told Complex about Future in February: “God gave him a blessing, but he gave me a blessing too. I ain’t gonna doubt the man’s music. He make beautiful music too. Music is made every day. Big ups to him, big ups to Future. I actually like Future’s music. I like his music, you feel me. I’m not a hater or a critic on him, you know, I do me. God bless him, God bless me.” He actually likes Future’s music. No shit. And yet: I actually like “Panda.” I ain’t gonna doubt the kid’s music. He makes beautiful music. Music is made every day.
1. DJ Shadow – “Nobody Speak” (Feat. Run The Jewels)
Killer Mike and El-P both have long and distinguished rap careers, so we already know that they know how to rap over music that doesn’t sound like chemical weapons being sprayed in your eyes. But it still feels great to hear them over something warm and welcoming, just as it feels great to hear Shadow, for the first time in what feels like forever, mining his vast vinyl collection to make something symphonic. Also, El’s Trump punchline is just savage.
2. Skepta – “Man”
I wish nobody had told me that eerie Themerin-noise effect was actually a Queens Of The Stone Age sample. I never would’ve picked it out, and it makes this seem like festival-bait rather than what it is, which is yet another beautiful and uncompromising grime energy-bomb.
3. Shy Glizzy – “Too Far” (Feat. G Herbo)
If you combine Glizzy’s deranged high-pitched giggle-shriek and the former Lil Herb’s gruff, deep, old-beyond-his-years baritone, you get a normal man’s voice.
4. Hoodrich Pablo Juan – “Walk Like Money”
I am firmly in favor of French trap-house producer Brodinski making tracks from random Atlanta rappers, especially if he keeps using that flute sound.
5. Jim Jones – “Harlem” (Feat. A$AP Ferg)
Both of these guys are from Harlem, and both of them are very good at ad-libs. They should make lots of songs together.